Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Review: Midnight Rising

Title Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
Author Tony Horwitz
Tags nonfiction, history, john brown, john brown's raid, slavery, harpers ferry 
Collections Your library
Rating ****
Your review The story of John Brown is interesting because he was in many ways repulsive and incompetent. yet a man of courage and one of the few white men of his time to treat blacks as equal. Not even the white abolitionists did that often, sad to say.

Brown grew up poor, one of many children, and he stayed poor while fathering a large number of children himself. He was not successful in anything he tried, mostly farming. He was deeply religious. and believed he was doing God's work in opposing slavery. When the battle over slavery was being waged so bloodily in Kansas, he and some of his sons fought on the anti-slavery side and in one raid he and his crew murdered several pro-slavery men.

Horwitz tells the story of the raid on Harper's Ferry in detail, including the months of preparation which included raising money from a few wealthy abolitionists and recruiting men. He never did manage to recruit as many as he thought he needed, nor raise enough money, but he went ahead with the plan. He believed that by raiding the Federal Armory at Harper's Ferry he could arm slaves who would rise against their masters and begin the war that wound end slavery. His plan was hopelessly unrealistic and poorly done. He didn't have much of an exit strategy. In the end, it failed dismally, resulting in a few casualties to civilians, and the death of many of his small band, including two of his sons. He was captured. and in the few months before his death impressed many in the North with his courage and burning words on the evils of slavery.

Would the war have happened without John Brown's raid? Probably. But it was one of the major precipitating factors among other things such as the Fugitive Slave Act, the fight in Kansas and Missouri, the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Dred Scott decision, etc. Horwitz raises the intriguing possibility that perhaps the raid was so poorly planned because Brown recognized that a martyr to the cause of abolition would increase abolitionist sentiment in the North.

Horwitz tells the story in a nice style that never gets in the way of the story. In the end, Brown's story makes me think uncomfortably of those who murder abortion doctors. I view slavery as the worst evil perpetrated by humans, but do not view abortion as murder. Yet I can see a similarity in those persuaded God commands them to murder to stop a great evil.

I recommend the book to those interested in a good story, or the history of the U.S. Civil War, or both.

Publication date 2011
Publication Henry Holt and Co. (2011), Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN 080509153X / 9780805091533

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Book Review: Chicago Lightning

Title Chicago Lightning : The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories
Author Max Allan Collins
Tags Short stories, nathan heller, private detectives 



Max Allan Collins is one of my favorite writers, and Nathan Heller my favorite character of his. Heller is a private detective in stories set from the 1930s to the 1960s. Heller in the course of his work gets to know major historical figures and events. Some of his novels have centered around the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the Lindbergh kidnapping, and the death of Marilyn Monroe. When Heller begins he is in Chicago in the heyday of the mobsters, and Heller knows the mobsters, primarily Frank Nitti - who seems much more interesting than Capone - as well as Elliot Ness.

One reason Collins is a favorite of me, the person with two degrees in history, is that his books are meticulously researched. He uses as much as he can of the history, makes reasonable speculations when the facts aren't known, and uses it all in the service of a marvelous story with very human and believable characters.

Short stories are not my favorite form of literature, but I'll take all the Heller I can get, and the stories are up to the usual Collins standard of excellence. The stories show Heller at different times and places in his career. If you've never read any of the Heller books, this is a good place to start and try the character on for size. But do then move on to the novels. I envy you the beginning of a terrific reading experience.


Publication date 2011
Publication Thomas & Mercer (2011), Paperback, 398 pages
ISBN 1612180914 / 9781612180915

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Book Review: Perfect Blood

Title A Perfect Blood (The Hollows, Book 10)
Author Kim Harrison
Tags paranormal, inderland, rachel morgan, witches, elves, pixies 






In this tenth entry in Harrison's The Hollows series, protagonist and narrator Rachel Morgan has become a demon. She wears a bracelet that blocks her from doing almost all magic because without it she would become visible to the her demon mentor, Al, and she fears if he knew she was alive he would drag her into the demon dimension and she would be unable to escape.

Meanwhile bodies of witches are being found by Inderland, the paranormal law enforcement agency. Someone has been experimenting and trying to turn the witches into demons and failing, causing the witches to die partially mutated and in great pain. Inderland brings Rachel into the investigation in part because they believe she is behind it. Other evidence points to a human hate group that had been believed wiped out.

I've read all this series though I have mixed feelings about it, and always have. Rachel has guts, but she's too impulsive and does dangerous things without sufficient backup, thought, and preparation, or when she is wounded. In this book she more than once gets rid of her bodyguard and of course gets into trouble. By now she should be dead.

Another irritating factor is how often another character is her best bud or lover and then becomes her enemy, or is her enemy but becomes her ally and this happen with several characters. Even worse, it cycles through several times with the same character. It call Rachel's judgement into even more question. The final irritation is that some characteristics of Harrison's paranormal world just don't seem sensible. Any demon magic Rachel does, no matter the purpose, even if it is to save someone's life, adds smut to her soul. Meanwhile the bad guys behave horribly without such consequence.

I have kept reading, though. Mainly for some of the characters. Rachel is annoying but courageous and warm-hearted. Ivy, her living vampire business partner, is interesting as is Trent Kalamack, a wealthy elf. Perhaps most vital is Jenks, a pixie and third partner in the business. And I have a crush on a Bis, the teenage gargoyle, who, in my opinion, isn't used enough.

I would recommend this particular book in the series. Good story, not as much that irritated me as some of the other books.

Publication date 2012
Publication Harper Voyager (2012), Hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN 0061957895 / 9780061957895

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